“It is time to do something here before the pipeline is completed,” Senator Jeanne Sahin (DN.H.), a member of the Foreign Affairs and Armed Services Committees, said on Thursday. “And I think we need to act very quickly.”
The pressure campaign escalated on Friday when Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas, withheld the final confirmation of President Joe Biden’s CIA nominee William Burns, delaying a quick vote to put pressure on the Biden administration to impose additional sanctions.
“I will release my detention when the Biden administrator fulfills his legal obligation to report and sanction the ships and companies that build Putin̵
The dynamics of the hill put the White House in diplomatic contact. The main goal of the new administration is to show a united front with Germany and the rest of Europe against Russian aggression. But Germany is eager to see the pipeline complete, as it would offer a cheaper alternative to natural gas, meaning the United States could anger a key ally if it continued with the sanctions required by Congress.
“We really want to restore relations with Germany after four years of abuse by the previous administration,” said a senior administration official. “But Congress is not moving. We are between a rock and an anvil. ”
“Bad deal for Europe”
Biden himself has publicly called the pipeline a “bad deal for Europe”, and the project’s sanctions package continues to make its way between the interagency process, even if it is not as fast as some lawmakers want. Shutting down Nord Stream 2 has long been a bipartisan priority, with members of Congress saying the completion of the pipeline will strengthen Russian President Vladimir Putin at the expense of Ukraine and other US allies.
In recent days, the Trump administration has planned to go so far as to sanction German entities for their role in the project, former officials said. Among them are the German CEO of Nord Stream Matthias Warnig and the German ship Krebs Geo. But in the end they never did, instead they only sanctioned the Russian pipe-laying ship Fortuna and its owner KVT-RUS.
The State Department confirmed the allegations in a report to Congress last month, but did not go any further, angering both Democratic MPs and Republicans who say the administration is empowered by law to identify and sanction anyone involved. the construction of the pipeline, which now includes at least seven Russian ships.
Sahin and Cruz are co-authors of a provision in the annual defense bill that imposes sanctions on participants in the construction of the pipeline. Shahin also joined Idaho Sen. Jim Rish, the top Republican on the Foreign Affairs Committee, in pushing Biden last month to fully enforce the provision.
The State Department briefed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the position of the Nord Stream 2 administration last week and will be again next week, according to a Senate aide. But officials said they had learned nothing new during the briefing, and senators themselves said they remained largely out of range.
You will not like the Germans when they are angry
Many current and former officials have said that at the heart of the issue is how to shut down the pipeline without deteriorating relations with Germany. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken is trying to restore Washington’s relations with Berlin after four years of neglect and contempt by the administration of former President Donald Trump. Relations have deteriorated so much under Trump that German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in 2018 that Europe could no longer rely on the United States and “must take its destiny into its own hands.”
The director of the National Security Council in Europe, Amanda Sloat, also warned internally not to take too fast measures for additional sanctions on Nord Stream, as the administration is working to restore US relations with Germany, officials said.
A former national security official close to the White House shared the general sentiment: “Many people in the administration believe that the Germans have been terribly abused and they want to get this relationship back on its feet.”
However, a senior administration official said critics should ask why the Trump administration did nothing more to shut down the pipeline during its four years in power.
“The pipeline is 95% complete and the Trump administration failed to do anything about it when there was a chance,” the official said. “Now former officials, who are letting this happen in some way, are somehow insisting that we are to blame. These same former employees are spreading conspiracy theories about secret discussions. The only discussion the Biden administration has had with the Germans on Nord Stream 2 is to clarify our opposition. “
In late January, after talks with Blinken, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said their position remained unchanged. But he said relations with the United States appear to be improving. “I have to get used to the fact that I talk to my American colleague on the phone and we agree on almost all issues,” he told Reuters. This has not been the case in the past.
Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) Said that while he “supported” sanctions efforts, he was also “very uncomfortable when the United States and Europe split in this way.”
“I think the ability of the United States and Europe to cooperate on China’s policy is more important than our Nord Stream 2 policy,” said Murphy, a leading member of the Foreign Affairs Committee. “So we need to find a way to get back on the same page with Europe, and I hope that the Biden administration will be able to have a more functional energy relationship with Europe than Trump.”
Game in the hand of Russia
But other current and former officials say the risks of allowing the pipeline to be completed and the leverage it could give Russia over Europe and NATO far outweigh the effects of Berlin’s anger in the short term. And they argue that if Germany is ready to move forward with this project, even as Russia continues to show aggression in eastern Ukraine, there is little evidence that Germany will live up to its commitment to maintain any gas transit through Ukraine even after the pipeline is completed. .
Nord Stream 2 will allow Russia to bypass Ukraine in transporting Russian gas to the EU via the Baltic Sea. This construction would deprive Kiev of crucial revenues – which, according to Ukrainian officials, is exactly the question.
“The main motivation for Russia is simply to punish Ukraine,” Ukrainian Deputy Minister of Economy, Trade and Agriculture Taras Kachka told POLITICO last month. “Ukraine strongly opposes the construction of Nord Stream 2 and sees it as another attempt by Russia to use energy as a tool for political pressure and blackmail.”
The Biden administration imposed new sanctions on Russian authorities earlier this week in response to the poisoning and imprisonment of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny and expects to impose more penalties on Russia’s malignant activities around the world in the coming weeks. But so far, Biden has resisted going further than his predecessor in imposing new sanctions on entities involved in the construction of Nord Stream, which current and former officials say would be one of the most effective ways to curb misconduct. Putin.
“Putting a bet on the heart of Nord Stream 2 could and would drain billions from Putin’s coffers,” said Ryan Tully, who was senior director of European and Russian affairs at NSC Trump.
Senator John Baraso (R-Wyo.) Led a group of 40 Republican senators in a letter to Biden on Wednesday, expressing “deep concern over the administration’s refusal to impose sanctions on entities involved in the Nord Stream II pipeline.”
Rish said he spoke with a State Department spokesman on Thursday about Nord Stream 2, but was disappointed.
“I don’t want to go further than that,” he told POLITICO. A spokesman for Risch later said that “there is no new information about [Nord Stream 2] brought up on call. “